For Palestinian children living in the occupied territories, beatings, humiliation, and intimidation are an everyday part of their bitter struggle with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), according to a report released this weekend by Israeli NGO, Breaking the Silence.
Compiling testimonies of over 30 former IDF soldiers and commanders, the report paints a picture of an enduring battle between young soldiers armed with batons and bullets and civilian children equipped only with their chants of discontent and stones they have scraped from the ground. In the Occupied Territories the age of innocence has long since been dead and buried. Palestinian minors - as young as 10 years of age - are, in practice, subject to the same punishments as adults. They too face arrests, violence, injury and even death.
It comes as no surprise that the rights afforded to Palestinian children resemble no vestige of those bestowed upon Israeli youths. Whilst the Jewish children of Israel enjoy the protection of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - of which Israel is a signatory - their Palestinian neighbors of the same age fall outside of its authority.
They are, however, granted some crucial human rights. Thanks to an injunction issued by the Israeli High Court, Palestinian children are not to be used as human shields. And, under a ruling made by the High Court of Justice, they are also not to be used for 'neighbor procedure'- an outlawed protocol in arrest missions in which a neighbor - often a child - is used to enter the wanted person's home and call its inhabitants to come outside, thus putting themselves - rather than an Israeli soldier - in the line-of-fire.
Yet, despite officially condemning such practices, Israel continues to allow these so-called rights to be flouted by members of the IDF.
Breaking the Silence's report contains personal accounts of the"rough justice" dealt by the IDF in and around the West Bank and Gaza Strip from 2005 to 2011. The harrowing details of IDF mistreatment of Palestinian children exposes a culture of violence within the force. According to the report itself, these testimonies "serve as witness to the ongoing slide of the military system toward increasing immorality."
In a no holds barred confession, a former First Sergeant of the Kfir Brigade admits that he and his comrades serving in Hebron in 2006 would incite unrest out of boredom: "We’d often provoke riots there. We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is." The soldiers, taking their bid for security to an extreme, would then direct the desperate retaliation of the Palestinians onto their own children, turning them into human shields: "Every time we’d catch Arab kids, hold them like this, with stones, like retards. You know, so that the others would throw stones at them, not at us." In these instances, children are stripped of their humanity and reduced to little more than the weapons of an unnecessary war.
This example of misconduct is corroborated by other dehumanizing tales. Whilst 'neighbor procedure' might not involve the physical restraint of children, it too acts to shield the IDF from a Palestinian attack. This practice was outlawed after a Palestinian was killed upon entering his neighbor's house. But, the former First Sergeant of the Paratroopers Brigade admits that this had little effect on his force: "Besides being illegal, at times use was made of women and children for this purpose. Children," he said.
The Sergeant says that he used this procedure with a child in Tulkarm in 2005: "Bilal, I even recall his name. I remember because I got very angry over this. And they kept sending him into that house to check that no one was inside, open all the doors, turn on all the lights, open all the windows."
Children like Bilal are not willing participants of 'neighbor procedure' - they are faced with the option of participation or arrest.
Despite the protection apparently offered to Palestinian youths against such abuses, Breaking the Silence's report reveals that soldiers on the ground pay little attention to the legal sanctions made in court rooms. Within its words rests the uncomfortable fact that the children of the Occupied Territories have become viable weapons and targets in a battle that spares no innocence.
What do you think of the IDF's treatment of Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories? Would stronger laws make any difference to their military practices? Leave us your comments below!
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